The fate of Ukrainians who sought refuge in Lithuania after war broke out in Ukraine is very different. Some of them managed to swiftly adapt to their new home, others are persevering despite many hurdles along the way while some – let’s be honest – struggle or already left Lithuania disappointed.
Among the stories imbued with sadness and despair, that of Iryna Holoborodko, a Ukrainian refugee who hunkered down in Palanga, Lithuania’s gem resort on the Baltic Sea, after Russia started war, is just happy throughout.
In the resort, this 46-year-old woman seething energy and optimism was able to quickly find job as teacher’s assistant in Vladas Jurgutis Progymnasium of Palanga. She also entered the local affiliate of a vocational school where she delved into studies of landscaping, and, importantly, her landlord is still heartfelt and honest.
“I can say I am very lucky.
In the beginning, the number of Ukrainian refugees in Palanga was slightly over one thousand people (based on the ratio of the local population which is around 16 thousand people in Palanga and the number of accepted Ukrainian refugees, Palanga was on the top-five list in the country in spring of 2022 – L. J.). Most of them – approximately six hundred – joined our local chat group. However, now only around two hundred and fifty of them are left in it, which makes me think that the majority left Palanga,” I. Holoborodko, who is chairwoman of a Ukrainian assistance charity organization, “Sodyba”, told BNN before adding: “Palanga is a wonderful place, however, for many Ukrainians, it turned out to be an unsuitable place, because, unlike other, much bigger Lithuanian cities, like Klaipeda or Vilnius, for example, it was not able to heed our requests for financial support of many of our initiatives here.”
But the story of Alexei, a Ukrainian refugee in Siauliai, Lithuania’s fourth-largest city, is completely different.
“Having worked as a blue-collar worker back in Ukraine, here in Lithuania I had to do some tedious manual work – fix potholes. I am not complaining, but I had to change several employers who, to put it mildly, took advantage of my situation and did not pay me as much as my Lithuanian fellow workers. Also finding an apartment to live was difficult. Only in the beginning of war, the locals embraced wholeheartedly Ukrainian refugees and rented apartments without additional requirements. Now many have a jaundiced eye on Ukrainians seeking rental properties – stories about those who screwed leases rage as fire,” the man told BNN on the condition of anonymity.
Until now, many big Lithuanian cities would pay Ukrainian refugees one-time allowance ranging from 250 to 300 euros, but some small towns like Palanga did not come up with a budget for that.
“The local authority was excusing itself that it cannot afford to pay such allowance, because the resort town is seasonal, and the local budget depends on how much revenue it collects in summer season,” I. Holoborodko explained.
In 2022, there were around one hundred Ukrainian schoolchildren in Vladas Jurgutis Progymnasium, but
the number dwindled down to 25 children in the beginning of 2024.
“My guess is that around one-third of the Ukrainians left Palanga for Klaipeda and Vilnius. Some returned to Ukraine, but few,” she said.
Lithuania’s Migration Department did not reply to a BNN query letter on the current population of Ukrainian refugees in the country.
The website of the Ministry of Social Security and Labor (LSADM) says that, currently, there are 83 134 Ukrainian refugees in Lithuania, 15 151 of whom were employed through the Employment Service.
The most acute issue for many Ukrainian refugees in Palanga was finding a place to live, Iryna said.
“Many underestimated the fact that the town is seasonal. With summer coming, finding any apartment for long-term rent turned out to be nearly impossible. Honestly speaking, with summer approaching, some who were housed temporarily, were politely asked to move out,” I. Holoborodko revealed.
Importantly, from this year, the Ministry stopped paying 150-euro housing allowances for Ukrainians.
The amount of compensation depended on how many people were accommodated. 150 euros were paid for one Ukrainian resident, and 50 euros per month for each subsequent person accommodated in the same housing. The amount of the benefit did not depend on the location of the housing where Ukrainians lived.
Using this form of compensation, about 15 thousand people were accommodated on the basis of use. Ukrainians. On average, about 1 million euros per month was allocated for such compensations, the ministry said.
But its cessation caught many Ukrainians in Palanga off guard.
“Many are shocked and burdened with new living costs ahead,” she said.
But Martynas Šiurkus, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, said in a press release at the turn of years that Ukrainian people have “successfully” established themselves in the labour market in our country.
According to the data of Sodra, Lithuania’s state social care fun, and the Employment Service,
about 30 thousand foreigners work and receive employment-related income.
“In addition, they have good conditions for self-employment, receive social support, use other means of housing support, for example, apply to the municipality where they live for compensation of part of the rent for housing rented under market conditions. It is expected that this will further encourage foreigners to integrate into the labor market and provide housing on their own,” M. Šiurkus said.
But I. Holoborodko disagrees with the deputy minister, saying that many Ukrainians still struggle and eke out juggling several little-paid jobs.
“Here in Palanga, the most toil in the hospitality sector. The majority are cleaners,” she said, admitting that some of her fellow countrymen have become victims of exploitation by their employers.
“But the town is little, and the word about such employers spread quickly, so Ukrainians avoid them now. Not only Ukrainians, but also Lithuanians complained to me of their dishonesty,” I. Holoborodko added.
Tomas Janeliūnas, head of research programs at the Center for Eastern European Studies (RESC), together with Anastasiia Thachuk and Svitlana Kostrykina
conducted a study that showed how Ukrainians feel about Lithuania.
Among the most pressing problems mentioned in the survey, which are faced by Ukrainians living in Lithuania, the survey participants mostly indicated the availability of medical care (51%), the availability of language courses (almost 46%) and help in finding work, housing and financial assistance (respectively almost 30%, 14% and 23%).
While some say that it is difficult to find language courses at an affordable price, others additionally point out that it is difficult to find the time for them.
Another frequently repeated problem is the difficulty of quickly getting a doctor’s consultation. The report notes that this problem is new for most Ukrainians, as they were used to receiving a doctor’s consultation within a few days. Although all interviewees reported that they had not experienced discrimination, there were recurring negative experiences that led to feelings of alienation.
In all, 50% of respondents said that they had negative social experiences, over 19% said that they were not allowed to rent housing, and almost 9% said that they were not allowed to get a job.
Due to the introduction of martial law in Ukraine and the conscription of Ukrainian men into the army, the absolute majority of participants in the online survey were women – almost 90%, delfi.lt reported.
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